Thursday, 2 August 2007

Entry #8 Individual Trip to Westminster Abbey

Since 1065 Westminster Abbey has served as a place of worship, the site of royal marriages and coronations, and the burial site of royalty, writers, musicians, and more. It started as a worship center for Benedictine monks but has evolved over time and become recognized worldwide as one of the great historical landmarks. Located in London, England, next to Westminster and a short walk from Buckingham Palace, worship at the Abbey is free and open to the public, though sightseeing visitors are charged up to £10.00/person. They do not receive money from the Crown or the Church, and only occasionally receive project support from the State, so those fees are the main source of income to keep the Abbey running and to pay for maintenance. This surprises me since it is a huge historical landmark, but I guess that’s the price you pay for independence from the State.

The area I was most looking forward to seeing was Queen Elizabeth I’s effigy. Her legacy to women is so inspiring, and I’ve always admired the strength and integrity she maintained under political and gender-related pressures. Seeing her tomb and the memorial to The Innocents in Henry VII’s chapel was such a special experience. I didn’t learn until after my visit that both Elizabeth and Mary Queen of Scots were placed in the Abbey by orders from King James VI – Mary’s son – and that he purposely ensured that Mary’s monument would be larger than Elizabeth’s. I can’t believe the people of England let him get away with that!

Speaking of royalty, it was also wonderful to see the coronation chair that has been used for every monarch since William the Conqueror, excepting Edward V and Edward VIII. During one of my London Alive events Professor Weist explained that if you look closely you can see names and figures carved into the seat. These are not graffiti marks made by the public; they are made by the monarchs to etch themselves into history. That was just amazing to see. Whether it be scratches in the coronation chair or signatures in a bathroom stall, it’s interesting to see that in some areas human nature succeeds both time and class.

Finally, one of the spots I enjoyed the most was Poet’s Corner where famous writers are buried and others memorialized. With the likes of Shakespeare, Dickens, Chaucer, and Eliot was a plaque in honor of my favorite author, Jane Austen. One of Austen’s novels of course is “Northanger Abbey,” a light-hearted spoof of gothic novels and culture. Besides that book, Abbey’s and churches are also central locations in her works, making this individual trip to Westminster Abbey rewarding on a personal level and a great place for information and understanding to be put into my long Austen research paper.